Boots & Sabers

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0624, 07 Jul 15

An attempted assault on open government

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:

Something very troubling happened in the Republicanled Joint Finance Committee last week for which the public needs more answers than have been offered. The Republican majority passed a series of sweeping provisions that would be a severe setback for open and transparent government.

As part of a larger budget bill, the JFC voted to keep the drafting files for legislation secret and give legislators the legal privilege to refuse to divulge any communication that occurred during their term and to prohibit their employees from doing the same. In short, the measures passed by the JFC allow elected politicians to keep the vast majority of their communications and records secret from the citizens they serve.

The opposition to this attack on open government was swift, fierce and came from all sides of the political spectrum. Conservative Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel blasted the move, saying “Transparency is the cornerstone of democracy and the provisions in the budget bill limiting access to public records move Wisconsin in the wrong direction.”

Liberal state Sen. Jon Erpenbach said “Creating exemptions in open records laws in the dark of the night is the biggest mistake Republicans could ever make.” Erpenbach may be underestimating the Republicans’ ability to make mistakes, but he and Schimel are absolutely correct. Open and transparent government is a necessary and fundamental component of a Republican form of government. Citizens are robbed of their ability to make intelligent and informed decisions about their representatives if they are purposefully rendered ignorant of those representatives’ actions.

In the face of such withering dissent from all sides, Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican leaders of the Legislature have relented. Although the provisions restricting open government are still part of the budget bill the JFC passed, the Republicans have pledged to remove those provisions from the budget altogether.

In a statement by Walker, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairpersons Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren, they said, “The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents’ privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way.”

First, their statement is, on its face, unbelievable. The documents that the bill would have hidden from public view were mostly those between legislators, their staffs, lobbyists and others involved in the legislative process. Relatively few actual constituents are involved enough in that process to require such drastic measures to protect their privacy. And the claim that it was “never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way” is just plain false. There can be no other result of such laws other than to inhibit transparent government.

Second, even though Walker and the Republicans have reversed course on restricting open government, that is not good enough. The Republicans are not admitting who put the open government restrictions in the budget bill or what the real purpose was. They are also not being forthright on whether Walker knew of or supported the restrictions before they were made public. Generally speaking, the Republican leaders of the Legislature would not put anything in the budget without the governor’s approval, but the Republicans have been very disjointed with Walker on the presidential campaign trail.

What we do know is that the 12 Republican members of the Joint Finance Committee voted to severely restrict open government and shield politicians from public scrutiny. The people deserve to know the truth about the creation and purpose of those restrictions so that they can hold their representatives accountable for their actions.

Owen Robinson is a West Bend resident. Reach him .


0624, 07 July 2015


  1. Pat

    When Walker was asked about the inclusion of the bill he would neither say he knew, or didn’t know about it. When a politician side steps a yes no question it pretty much can be safely assumed that he knew. Walker is the one person who would benefit the most from this.

    As a candidate for governor, Walker said he “absolutely” would pledge to run the most transparent gubernatorial administration ever in Wisconsin. This is very far from the truth and he’s being proven to be an individual not to be trusted.

  2. Fairs Fare

    I want to know the truth. I want to know who to hold responsible. I want answers. Eventually, some B.S. smoke screen answer will be fabricated to protect Walker (as has happened many times before). It’s time people see him for who he really is… a corrupt, power hungry, self centered egomaniac willing to throw Wisconsin under the bus for his own ambitions. Wake up WI. Thank you Owen for calling this one correctly… Unbelievable.

  3. Kevin Scheunemann

    It’s obvious. Robin Vos is to blame.

  4. Fairs Fare

    “It’s obvious” Walker knew about this scandalous addition and should ultimately be held responsible. If he didn’t know or claims not to have known it shows his further incompetence. The guy at the top is always held responsible for the actions of their cronies (clownies).

  5. Kevin Scheunemann


    That principle never applies to Democrats like Hillary.

  6. Fairs Fare

    I thought this thread was about “Walker and the Republicans”. However, Hillary has been and will continue to take heat for her indiscretions (as she should). I am not a Hillary supporter. Back on topic, Walker and Republicans should be transparent in answering how and who is responsible for trying to exclude the public from the democratic process. This is disgraceful and doesn’t represent the fine history of our state or it’s people. One more hole in the hull of a Walkers sinking ship. I jumped ship long ago and am unwilling to blindly follow this type of corrupt, scandalous and deceptive policy making practice. I am glad to see (some) Republicans and Democrats are as disappointed by this as me.

  7. Kevin Scheunemann


    The tell here is that Vos an Nygren are doubling down on the stupidity on this. Walker is not.

    Walker is correcting his mistake, the other 2 are not.

    Those 2 are to blame, and should resign their leadership posts.

  8. Fairs Fare

    This was a collaborative effort. Walker is as responsible, if not more, he is after all “the boss”. It’s your prerogative to continue to support Walker but I am done putting up with this craziness. What was it George Bush TRIED to say: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I’m not fooled anymore. Now I have to re-examine all the other things he was accused of and see if I prematurely dismissed them. Time to put on the hip waders…

  9. Mark Maley

    ” I was poorly served by my advisors ”
    Richard Nixon + Scott walker

  10. Fairs Fare

    CONFIRMED! Walkers camp takes responsibility.

  11. Kevin Scheunemann

    He’s a class act and takes responsibility for what was a Vos-Nygren debacle.

    This gives Walker the “buck stops here” class, even though the Assembly leaders were responsible.

  12. Mark Maley

    ” I was for this before I was against it ”
    John Kerry and Scott Walker

  13. Kevin scheunemamm

    Walker’s mistake was easily fixed before it was a problem.

    Kerry’s mistake. He did the right thing first, then did wrong thing which could have cost lives and imperiled national security.

    Walker made mistake, then put it right.

    Big difference.

  14. Fairs Fare

    You could spin maggot infested rotting meat into a rose decorated ice cream cake but it’s still going to leave a bad taste in my mouth. In this case there are no class acts just a bunch of scum bags floating on top of the pond scum right next to the douche bags.

  15. Kevin scheunemann



    I learned spin at the school of liberalism at UWM….

    UWM teaches spin for evil things like unborn child extermination. If you can spin something that reprehensible as “choice”, one can spin anything.

    In this case, my “spin” is at least accurate. Vos is to blame. He should resign.

  16. Fairs Fare

    How do you figure? Walkers camp took responsibility.
    Show me one example of anyone in the UW system condoning unborn child extermination. That’s a irresponsible statement.

  17. Kevin scheunemann

    Irresponsible statement? I went to school there. Pre-born child extermination is an open and proud sacrament of the liberal religion. Opposing it, just by speech, can get you hauled in front of UW administration for being insensitive to the child killer advocates.

  18. Fairs Fare

    How can you stand to look at yourself in the mirror? How can you call yourself a Christian? The link you posted does not condone abortion it talks about and discusses women’s experiences who have had abortions. Or is talking about abortion now voodoo. Some much for the first amendment that you claim to support. This is just more of your perverse spin. Completely irresponsible! Now can explain how Walker avoids blame when his camp took responsibility?

  19. Pat

    Hey Kevin,

    You never answered my simple yes / no question.
    So in one word, using just yes, or no, is Capitalism a religion.

  20. Fairs Fare

    Yet another open forum discussion about abortion and the purposed laws. Not proof of any UW system employee condoning unborn child extermination. Where do you come up with such unsupported rhetoric. These unfounded, distorted lies are not very Christian. Just for the record and to avoid be lumped into your craziness, I don’t support abortion.

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